Straight out of Tolstoy

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
                                                                                                      Leo Tolstoy

Yo can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not…              Harper Lee

 

Members of both happy and unhappy families are affected by resentments, feeling left out, unappreciated, taken advantage of, unappreciated, taken advantage of, being misunderstood and countless other ways.  It’s the happy family that’s able to resolve issues and remain involved.

Or maybe it’s the unhappy family who is doing better when they bring differences out in the open, play no conciliatory games and accept their feelings. Those are few and far between.  The more common is the unhappy family who pretends to be happy but silently hangs on to their resentments and hard feelings.

My family is a mix of all of these. My parents and their six children, in our growing up years, had the usual minor glitches. Let’s face it. All families have that one or two hard to understand or tolerate person who stretches the patience of everyone. And who puts a damper on Christmas dinner.

Once I was an adult, I recall how my dad would remark after a holiday get together, how happy he was that we could spend time together. And yes, we could put aside our differences for a few hours in the name of family peace.

But once Mom and Dad were gone, things changed.  I’d often said to a sister that once they were gone, family get togethers would fall away. For us, they have and we now have several factions.

One faction has Christmas their way; come if you want to or don’t but you have to leave by a certain time. Some, make up excuses so they don’t have to attend. Some purposely make other plans.

One faction wouldn’t go to a nephew’s graduation party because they’d have to see that one problem relative. That doesn’t seem fair to the graduate who had nothing to do with the long-standing disagreement. Another faction isn’t invited to certain weddings. And some don’t belong to any faction. They just show up whenever invited.

Perhaps I’m finally ready to accept that my family is irreparably broken. Thinking back, this is certainly not new. It’s been going on for a very long time, it just bothers me more now.

I finally faced reality this last year when my brother, sister-in-law and I planned a simple March Madness party. Some didn’t want to come unless assured a certain person would not be there. This was capped off when my attempts failed miserably to work out a holiday get together that would be convenient for everyone. I give up.

But here’s what I’ve decided to do. In a future event I’m planning, I’m inviting everyone. Some might not want to come. So be it. Personally, I’m not giving that person so much power. And if I’m boycotted, there’s nothing I can do about it.

 

Imaginary Friend

When I was five years old and my second younger sister had just been born, I began to talk about a little boy no one else could see. He was close to my age, wore blue bib overalls and tennis shoes.

According to Mom, she became aware of him as we were sitting down for one of our frequent reading sessions. I announced in horror: “Mom, you’re sitting on Cocker-Dukey!”

Mom says she quickly apologized, got up, then cupped her hands and pretended to move him over so she could sit between us to read. Cocker-Dukey attended all our reading sessions, was tucked in at night and had his own place at the dinner table.

Researchers have theorized that children with imaginary friends may develop language skills and retain knowledge faster than children without them. This could be because these children get more linguistic practice than their peers, a result of carrying on “conversations” with their imaginary friends.

Research further reported that 65% of people say they have had an imaginary friend at some point in their lives. Usually before the age of seven. Its further reported imaginary friends are an integral part of many children’s lives.

They provide comfort in times of stress, companionship when they’re lonely, someone to boss around when they feel powerless, and someone to blame for the broken lamp in the living room.

Most important, an imaginary friend is a tool that young children can use to help them make sense of the adult world. Another researcher dispelled some results suggesting children with imaginary friends might be superior in intelligence; it is not true that only intelligent children create them.

Humor the child, Mom had been told and that’s what she did until it seemed she hadn’t heard about Cocker-Dukey for a while. When she asked, I told her he had gone down the street one day, turned, waved good-bye and was gone.

I have vivid memories of my old imaginary friend. I like to think that was the start of my penchant to surround myself with the wonderful, funny and thoughtful friends who have always inhabited my life.

Out of My Comfort Zone

My brother said it was good for me to get out of my comfort zone. That’s how his suggestion to visit morphed into a small family gathering at an unfamiliar location. They wanted to combine their visit with March Madness.

Since I’m the local here, it was my job to send out a save the date message to my family and to scout out good locations. So at noon on a Saturday in March, I showed up with my brother and sister-in-law at Champps Americana Sports Bar. We were later joined by a sister and brother-in-law and their son and his fiancé.

The bar was humongous, nicely furnished with several areas perfect for large gatherings. And there were lots of small parties already going on. I was surprised how full the place was given the time of day, then realized I’d clearly entered a culture quite foreign to my usual travels.

The crowd included lots of families and a surprising number of small children. I mean small. In the five, six, seven age range. How a family could afford these prices made me wonder. When I was a kid, it was a very big deal to go to the American Legion hall for a fish fry once in a while. I could see that these kids were being introduced to the bar culture while quite young.

We ordered drinks and got ready for the game to start. Drinking so early quickly led to the need for food. Since our table was in the main pathway from the kitchen, the steady stream of overloaded platters let me know I was in for a culinary delight. Or at least, plenty to take home for another meal

After a lunch that was more like a dinner, we got down to some serious catching up with the biggest news being the recent engagement of my nephew. Before he and his new fiancé arrived, my sister told the very entertaining popping-the-question story. This was repeated first by my nephew and then by his fiancé. It was fun to enjoy their happiness and compare their different perspectives of the same event.

My sister should be proud of her son who went all out on his proposal. He’d gathered his and her entire family, placed them at the end of a bridge were he and his girlfriend often look evening walks. As they came over the bridge, there they all were.  Down on his knee, ring in hand. A perfect story.

From our table we had a close view of seven TV screens. Not only was there the basketball game but also baseball, golf, even a hockey game and others I can’t even remember. By this time, I realized that the first game was mostly over. I was informed by my brother that we really only need to watch the last five minutes. And sure enough, the game got very exciting.

My brother is a referee for high school and college basketball and football in the Madison area. He’s also the President of the Southeast Wisconsin Referee Association. So, he knows his stuff and filled me in on the finer points of fan behavior.  I took full advantage of his expertise. Before we knew it two games were completed (that we’d hardly watched), drinks and food enjoyed and it was time to go back to my comfort zone.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no stranger to the bar scene. Back in the 1960’s I spent a good share of my time taking advantage of the eighteen-year-old beer drinking law. Things were quite different back then. Small, shabby bars. No big TV screens. No virtual fantasy leagues. It was a simpler time with sports not the big deal it is today.

Not being a sports fan or one who now frequents taverns, I enjoyed this short adventure into a foreign culture but have no plans for changes in my social life. Though, in a few weeks I’m invited to a Brewer’s opening day party at another sports bar. I’m looking forward to it now that I know what to expect. It’s kind of fun to get out of my comfort zone.

Driving Lessons

Long before driving schools existed it was necessary to beg a family member to act as instructor. Mom, a traditional housewife, didn’t drive. That left me only one choice and it was a triple whammy of complications.

First, just learning to drive. Second, I was learning to drive on a stick shift. And third, I was learning to drive from my dad – a policeman. I recall during my childhood that Dad was this phantom who was often absent but always intimidating. When present he was this tall man in a blue uniform and a funny, wide-brimmed hat. Then there was the badge and the gun, holstered at his side.

During grade school, my sisters and I would come home for lunch to hear Mom’s admonitions to be quiet. Dad was sleeping due to a night-shift. But when he was around, lunch involved Dad’s orders to be completely quiet.

He loved Paul Harvey whose radio program aired each day at noon. The only sounds allowed were Dad’s chuckles or ah-hah’s in agreement with Paul Harvey’s analysis of some world event. I went through my childhood obeying without question and just staying out of the way of this mysterious interloper.  Until it was time to learn to drive.

After long, arduous kitchen table discussions and much spirited advice, we set out. Dad was a stern teacher, not known for calmness. I recollect our practice driving on city streets.  Perhaps large shopping center parking lots didn’t even exist back then.

I recall the first time we approached an intersection and I noticed the red light had changed to green.  I commented that that meant I didn’t have to brake though there were two cars ahead of us. I thought Dad would go through the windshield.

He smoked a pipe and always propped it, unlit but ready to go, in the open ashtray on the dashboard. I always knew when I wasn’t doing well. The pipe was lit. Couple that with his jerky motions and clearing his throat. The longer the session, the worse I felt.

Mom, in our much later reminiscences, laughed at how she knew right away how things had gone when we returned from a driving session. She’d peek out the window as we both walked toward the house; most often, I looked defiant and Dad looked angry. She knew not to ask how things had gone. By the way, I got my license on the first try.

Our father/daughter love/hate relationship was quite usual but with a little twist. I commented, as an adult, that I went through high school with a cop car in my driveway. And it did wonders for my social life. Guys often asked if they could pick me up on the corner. No way! I learned the hard way to toe the line at home. But it didn’t impair the adolescent sneakiness of my social life.

Just once, my friend Ruth Ann and I got the bright idea to skip school. We thought we were so smart, calling in for each other. Then we hit the road in Ruth Ann’s boyfriend’s car. We had a great time.

When I got home Mom coyly asked how my day had gone; then informed me I was busted. In fact, I’d been busted in the first half hour. As Ruth Ann and I blithely “cruised the gut,” I was spotted by a city cop. Who then called my Dad.  Who then called Mom.  She, of course, called the school. So, that was the end of my career on the lam. And it further curtailed my already limited use of the family car.

When as a senior in high school and just turned eighteen, some younger friends asked me to buy beer for them. In the desperate need to be liked, I said okay and went to a small grocery store and smugly showed my newly minted driver’s license.

Somehow Dad got wind of it (as he always did); all he said was what I was doing wasn’t wise and if I got caught I shouldn’t except any help from him. Needless to say, that put an end to my career as an underground supplier.

Life with a dad who’s a cop was hard. I got away with nothing. But I look back and appreciate a few lessons. I always signal my turns, keep a safe distance when following another car, don’t break any laws drinking or otherwise.

As soon as I graduated, I escaped the prison of my childhood.  Visits home from college were punctuated by Dad’s hunched shoulders and judging silence as I regaled him and Mom with my latest adventures. My only regret was once, to get his goat, I called policemen “pigs.” But then, that was the 60’s, don’t you know.

 

Broken Branches

When I was a child, one of my aunts kept a family tree. Nothing fancy. Just a type-written list that was mimeographed and passed out at each family reunion. Over time it became the final word when questions or disagreements arose about our family’s past.

How could I know that, as an adult, I’d have to make sense of the secrets it held and accept how mangled it really was. My mother was the oldest of six kids from a very large and close family and I was the first grandchild, oldest of over thirty cousins.     As a college student, I wanted to clear up a question in the family tree,

I couldn’t find one particular cousin. I was sure my mother’s sister had had a child but only my aunts name appeared on the document. I asked Mom and she, rather hesitantly, said it as true. As we were talking, I flashed back to an incident when I was about nine years old. Now it all made sense.

I have clear memories of times my aunts and grandmother would come over for one of their card parties. These times were as much fun for me as for them because I loved all the chatter and laughing. I’d sit quietly in the corner trying to understand the latest gossip.

But on that day, Aunt Marge was absent and their whispered conversations were out of the ordinary. They seemed to be purposely keeping something from me and to be judging Aunt Marge.

She was one of my favorite aunts and nothing she did could ever seem wrong to me. My questions were shushed but after everyone left I asked Mom what was going on. She fumbled around uncomfortably before finally speaking.

“Well, I guess you’re old enough to know. Your Aunt Marge is going to have a baby. And she isn’t married.” Then she got very busy folding clothes, clearly wanting me to let it go. But I couldn’t.

“But how can she help that?” I questioned, with the innocence of a fourth grader before sex education.

“She can’t help it if God gave her a baby,” I reasoned. “Father Elverman says babies are a gift from God. So how can she help it if God decided she should have a baby and she isn’t married?”  Mom gave me no straight answers and then told me to “just never mind.” But I couldn’t be stopped.

“When I go to school tomorrow, I’m going to ask Father Elverman,” I declared.  “He told us that babies are gifts from God and I don’t see how that can be wrong! She couldn’t help it!” Mom was a bundle of nerves; she somehow got me to promise I wouldn’t go to Father Elverman. Perhaps this was one of my first lessons in the power of family secrets.

Aunt Marge did have her baby, a boy named Dennis. On a weekend trip to Grandma’s, I visited him sleeping in a crib in Aunt Marge’s bedroom. She even let me hold him once.

Then a short time later, Dennis died. It was called “crib death.” He just didn’t wake up one morning. At my next visit, Aunt Marge was crying and getting clothes ready for the undertaker. After that, nothing more was said about Dennis. It was almost like he’d never existed.

Back to me, as a college student, looking over the family tree, I had a question for Mom.    “Why isn’t Dennis in the family tree? He was a part of the family, after all.” She thought for a minute before she spoke.

“Well, I guess people just didn’t do it that way back then.”

“Oh. Because Aunt Marge wasn’t married?”

“That’s right.”

“What about Dennis’s father?”

“He was a man Marge had gone with on and off for some time. But at the time she got pregnant, he was married. “

“Why didn’t she give the baby up for adoption?”

“Oh, that wasn’t done back then,” Mom said. ” You know my Aunt Trixie’s daughter, Pat? She was born out of wedlock. Trixie just lived at home and kept the baby. If they could, people got married. If not, they just took the baby into the family.”  As we talked more, Mom got a mischievous look on her face.

“Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but all my sisters and my brother had to get married.” She reeked snugness.

“What?” I gasped. “You mean Aunt Rita? Aunt Betty? Aunt Jean? What about Uncle Bill?” At the mention of each name, Mom shook her head up and down with a sheepish grin. That turned into a puffed-up posture as she filled in more details.

“I remember when I was in high school and a girl in my class got pregnant. All I could think was I’d never let that happen to me. And I didn’t.”

”And you were the only one. How interesting,” I responded. “Funny how, back at that time, everyone was judging Aunt Marge but they weren’t so perfect themselves.”

“I guess so,” Mom continued. “It’s just one of those things that everybody knows but nobody talks about in polite company.”  Humph, polite company. Small actions still speak volumes.

It will always bother me that Dennis was left out of the family tree. For whatever reason. So, if the family tree had been done when Pat was born, she’d have been omitted too. Even more unfair.

Aunt Marge died some years ago. We stopped having family reunions so the pages aren’t updated and handed out anymore. I didn’t know it, but the family tree was about to be hit by a bolt of lightning.

Around the time of her 92nd birthday, as Mom was “putting her affairs in order,” she privately told me and each of my five siblings that she’d been born out of wedlock. She thought it wouldn’t be fair for us to see the truth on her birth certificate after she’d died.

The realization was sobering that there’s cousins, aunts and uncles out there who I know nothing about. I’d always felt so lucky that, with the help of the family tree, I knew who everyone was three generations back in my family. I guess that’s the end of that childish fantasy.

So, Grandpa wasn’t really my grandpa after all. Now I understand why my mother always, in a derisive tone, called him Claude. And if these old rules were followed, perhaps my mother might not have been included in the family tree, gnarled and unruly mess that it’s turning out to be.  I now wonder what other secrets are still out there.

German Potato Dumplings

Major pleading was necessary to get Mom to make my favorite childhood meal: German potato dumplings (knuedel), pork chops with gravy and green peas. To this day, when I think of this meal, my mouth waters. I also recall that it was an all-day affair, a time intensive assembly line production.

My busy mother with six kids and a husband to take care of had to be cajoled to put in the time needed to produce this meal. Of course, this automatically made me the mother’s helper, promising to do a few extra chores.

Grandma had made what she called knuedels and that’s where I first got hooked. Then I begged Mom to get the recipe. Preparation of the potatoes started early in the day: boiling, cooling, peeling the skins, mashing, kneading with flour, making snowball-like globes and ending with more boiling.

It was also most important to make too many. Leftovers became a great addition to another meal the next day. The leftover dumplings were sliced and fried in a pan; then a beaten egg was added at the end. Great with lots of butter. I recall me and my siblings rushing to get to the table before they were gone.

When I came home while in college, Mom always grinned as she asked what I’d like for supper, knowing what my answer would be. I don’t think I’ve had this meal since then. But the memory is clear.

In this electronic age, knuedels are all over the internet. They’re on Wikipedia and a half dozen You Tube videos depict the fine points of knuedal creation. Klas, a chef from Munich, has an interesting variation, using half raw potatoes; he adds even more time to the process since its necessary to squeeze the water out of the raw potatoes.

There are many names for this delicacy: knuedel, knodel, kloesse, kartoffelkloesse, schupfnudeln. Versions of recipes and names can be found in most countries in Europe and its noted this was an important staple that stretched the meal for poor and hard-working families.

Though my family wasn’t poor, I recall how Mom stretched our meals with casseroles and knuedels.  And I appreciate, now more than ever, how Mom made, just for me, this rather simple meal that made me feel special.

Tradition 2016

In our family, Thanksgiving is a time when each of my siblings do their own thing (and some say it’s really nice to spend the day with just their own family).  Christmas has turned out a little different. For the second year, Karleen has opened her home for a party honoring our parent’s Christmas Day tradition. And for that we are thankful.

Over the years, we’ve experimented with various stocking stuffers and name drawing methods of gift exchange; now we seem to have finally found the perfect thing. Each year we pick a color and the gift for anyone who wants to participate must be in that color and a minimum value of ten dollars. No food is the only stipulation.

My gift is always of the alcohol nature. And usually over the ten dollar limit. In years past I’ve brought Gold: Goldschlager schnapps;  Purple: Steel Reserve Beer; Yellow: Yellow Fly Wine, Blue: Skyy vodka. This year’s black was Jack Daniels.

After a year or two I realized that certain unnamed relatives were searching hard for the alcohol gift, so now I wrap it in a large bag. My niece, Kristin tried to steal my thunder this year gifting some liquor also. That’s okay, I’m willing to share my gig.

We draw numbers then take turns picking and opening gifts. Once opening is done and everyone has scoped out the gift they covet, the trading begins. And that can be pretty intense. And fun. Somehow, people so interested (nephew Craig) ended up with all the booze. I drew towels which I didn’t need and traded for socks which I did.  Jeung Bok got hand tools (just what a single gal needs for apartment repair). A win-win for all.

My threat that I wouldn’t make my deviled eggs next year if any were left-over backfired terribly; that tradition survives for another year. The good side of social media was apparent listening to Calvin, on a smart phone from Australia, screeching in joy at his grandfather (brother Kurt) making many funny faces and growling noises at him. It was great to see and talk to Jeung Hwa and wish her well in the upcoming birth of Calvin’s sibling in February. As I said, the good side of social media.

Most honored and first time guest this year was Mark’s girlfriend, Rebecca. She commented that her family was quite subdued. I don’t think we scared her away, showing her our true side. She seemed able to handle it all.

We pride ourselves on the simple Christmas Day menu and casual agenda. I heartily recommend the pizza, egg rolls, deviled eggs, cheesy potatoes and various snacks and sweets that adorned our table. We missed Kent and Tami’s fresh veggies and dip. Don’t get me wrong, we missed them too.

image1This year’s new tradition involved naughty socks. Though many wore nice holiday socks, they were upstaged by my “f**k this s**t” socks and niece Kristin’s  ”A-hole” socks. Kristin says he was channeling her Carrie Fisher. I have no excuse. All I know is there was lots of interest in knowing where to buy a pair. Next year should be a hoot!

Long after everyone had gone home, I played a game with Mark, Rebecca and their friends, a game that stretched my imagination and sense of decency. Cards Against Humanity describes itself as “a party game for horrible people who are as despicable and awkward as you and your friends.”  That’s what they say about themselves! And they are right.

Of the six players, mostly in their thirties, I won, taking 24 cards. I must be the most despicable. All I know is, I learned more sex and body fluid terms than I thought existed and most of them I don’t want to know. Not bad for an old broad. It was an energetic end to a very long day.

 

A great time was had by all. We recall how Dad would comment after every family get together, how great it was that we all got along. I think he’d be happy today.

 

A Rotary Phone

It would take forever to dial a number. The dial clicked, slowly clicked, clicked, clicked. One number after the other as it made its leisurely way back to stillness. After waiting forever to find the party line finally free, it took another eternity to place the call.

I was sitting at the kitchen table. The phone was a wall model ad I had to sit very close since the cord was so short. It was Saturday morning and I was calling to see if my best friend, Cathy, wanted to go shopping. We did that nearly every Saturday. We’d cruise through the few downtown clothing stores and then stop on the way home at McCarthy’s drug store for a cherry coke.

But this time, the week had been busy at school and we hadn’t firmed up anything. When she answered, her voice sounded strange. Kind of muffled. It took a while for her to answer my question. No, she said. Her brother, Bob had been in a car accident last night.

It didn’t really register at first. I thought maybe he was in the hospital or home in bed after the emergency room, sleeping the experience off. Or sleeping off his hangover. He was pretty wild and I knew from Cathy how her parents worried about him.

To me, he was so cute. He dressed flashy with his leather jacket and slicked back hair. A real cool dude, as we said in those days. I guess I had a crush on him though I knew he was out of my league and I’d never have admitted that to anyone. Especially Cathy.

Back to her response, I was confused. I didn’t get it. What did his accident have to do with whether or not we could go shopping? I might have even said something about how Bob was always up to something and how we never let his shenanigans get in our way. She had to actually say it. He’d died at the scene, she cried.

That was unreal to me. He always seemed so alive. Nothing could touch him. I’d just seen him the other day. I don’t remember what I said to Cathy; we just hung up. I think I just went on with my day as though nothing had happened. I don’t remember the funeral or talking to her parents or anything.

Looking back, I’m embarrassed that I didn’t get it. I don’t think I said the right things.  Or said much of anything. I don’t think I was sensitive or comforting. I could plead naiveté or immaturity but there is no excuse. I still feel bad.

 

What Corky Would Be Saying Now

(August, 2016) My dad, Corky, was opinionated. Outspoken. I always knew where he stood on any issue. Lately, I’ve been wondering what Corky’s take would be on the current presidential election. I’m not going to use the old cliché (rolling over in his grave) but I do sense some ominous rumbling coming from off in the distance.

Corky died in 2008, right before the presidential election and voted absentee. My sister told me how conflicted he was with the McCain/Palin ticket which was surprising coming from my hard-core republican Dad. She also told me he’d toyed with a vote for Obama but in the end stayed loyal and true.

I recall, when in college, how he and I had stimulating conversations about books I’d brought home from my classes. That was, until our beliefs differed. Still, I will always treasure our spirited talks of long ago which is probably why my most vivid recollections of my dad revolve around politics.

Politics is a classic example of how you can love someone and yet not like or agree with their attitudes or behavior. I couldn’t figure out how this working class man could become so conservative. Especially, when he’d benefited greatly from the social amenities of a democratic society. Dad was a policeman and I guess that’s the key. Coming home from a work day filled with unsavory people and events, I’m sure this led him down the path of right-wing thought.

Then talk radio further solidified his views. Each visit home was punctuated by his current adoration of one celebrity after another. This went from Rush Limbaugh to Don Imus and beyond. I vividly remember Dad’s detailed description of how G. Gordon Liddy, Watergate conspirator turned talk show host, burned his hand, holding it over a candle. Just to make a point. I never got the point but Dad sure seemed to.

Family gatherings grew more tense when Dad became unhinged by Bill Clinton. My siblings and I became desperate, we made a pact to take turns changing the subject whenever politics came up. Which it always did. It went something like this:

Corky: “Can you believe what that horse’s ass Slick Willy said to Congress about that trade agreement?”
My brother: “So, what do you hear from Clarence? Is he still working at Oshkosh Truck or has he retired?”  A few minutes of regular conversation would ensue. Then the next round began.

Corky: “Did you hear how Rush let those liberals have it about that affirmative action baloney they want to ram down our throats?”
Me: “I noticed how great the garden is. How many tomato plants did you put in this year, Dad?” These times resembled a ping pong game. Ping, ping, ping as we’d do our best to stay focused on the routine issues of daily life.

Dad spent hours each day reading several newspapers and cutting out articles and cartoons about Clinton politics. He was so proud of himself when he acquired old wallpaper sample books from a local home decorating store to store all of these super valuable materials.

Finally, a place to preserve every cartoon and editorial printed about Slick Willy.  Particularly silly or damming material was taped to the covers. I think he filled up six or seven of those books and proudly displayed them every chance he got.

Corky: “He has plans, diabolical plans. You wait, these things will be important. I’ve got to keep a record.”
Me: So, I see you have new neighbors next door. Have you met them yet?”
Corky: “No. The guy is a professor over at the University. Probably another one of those pinko liberals.” Poor Dad, living in pinko, liberal Madison with all the blue political lawn signs planted in yards up and down the block.

Which brings me to today. Both Mom and Dad are gone and their house has been completely rehabbed by one of those professors from the University. And I’ll bet there’s a blue lawn sign out front. Dad’s having conniptions about that, I’m sure. And about the current election.

My trumpian father would be right at home with the verbose behavior and coarse language. He’d revel in the caustic trumping of each candidate’s outrageous allegations about the other. He’d be right in there arguing over the trumped up accusations and insinuations.  He’d be in his glory.

But there’s something that would be really worrying him.  Something that could mean the end of life as we know it. That’s the possibility that Slick Willy would find his way back into the White House even through a side door. Or a back door. Where are those wall paper books when you need them!

 

Perseverance

Perseverance is almost universally considered a strength, something everyone should strive for.  But what about when it isn’t? What about when that tunnel vision of perseverance hits the brick wall of reality. My mother’s brick wall was her advanced age (96) and her quickly growing frailty. She was strong willed or, as Dad used to say, bullheaded and determined to stay in her home until the end. No discussion.

Her kids, myself and five others, watched in dismay as she courageously held out against the certainty of time.  It was puzzling why someone so determined was so lax in doing the small things that might have made a difference. Instead of changing the low battery on her hearing aids and keeping the medical alert buzzer on her body at all times, she was both careless and unconcerned.

Her constant talk of being lonely could not be assuaged by suggestions about assisted living. The value of better and regular meals, company and activities were brushed away with distain. I asked her, why would such a people-oriented person as yourself who has the money not take  advantage of these services? Mom’s angry reply was that she’d spent her whole life taking care of her children and now it was their turn to take care of her. This only intensified hard feelings and frustration on both sides.

I admired how each day she took her walker outside and traveled the entire block, greeting neighbors who came out to say hello. But then she was insulted when my sister told her of the worried phone calls she’d gotten from Mom’s unnamed neighbors down the street. That’s when denial set in. And more perseverance.

As winter approached, the fear of Mom being all alone in her big house escalated; we worried even more as unattended pots were left on the stove. Spoiled food was found in the refrigerator and mysterious piles of “very important” papers cluttered every flat surface. It became more common for Mom to be out of reach for hours when the phone was inadvertently left off the hook. Twice,  police arrived at her door when she’d pressed the wrong button.

My sister, her main caregiver, seemed to keep hoping that Mom would wake up one day and suddenly realize it was time. In the end, what finally made the difference was the written list of pro’s and con’s conspicuously placed on the dining room table. My brother and sister went over the list, point by point, each time they visited.

Now that everything is over (assisted living with very poor adjustment, her death a few months later) I can see that Mom used up all her perseverance trying to stay at home. When it came time for transition she had nothing left.

Sometimes the most valuable lessons are learned by observing the behavior of others and coming away saying I’ll never do that or I’ll never act that way.  And while I greatly admire Mom’s strength and her passion, I’ve developed a more refined plan to persevere in the later years of my life. I fully dedicate myself to what I’m able to do each and every day. But I also consider new circumstances and allow myself to change my mind.

 

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